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United Methodists open table to homeless

 


United Methodists open table to homeless

Feb. 7, 2005

By Linda S. Rhodes*

HOUSTON (UMNS)—Inspired to action, some United Methodists in town for a conference on creating healthy congregations left their plush hotel, walked to a fast-food restaurant and bought 400 meals for a group of homeless people living under an expressway overpass.

Nearly 100 participants at the "Healthy Churches: Transforming the World" conference were inspired by a hymn "Invitation" that, in part, says "There are tables in our city filled with lavish food and drink. Many dine there without pity, of the homeless never think."

The visit to the overpass was the idea of the Rev. We Hyun Chang, pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church in Concord, N.H., who said he had gone to McDonald’s to get breakfast and saw the people living on the street.

"I was surprised by the disparity" between the fancy hotel where the conference was and the stark surroundings under the overpass, Chang said. "I wanted to do something rather than just talk about it."

About 1,300 local church and conference leaders from across the United States met Jan. 27-30 to learn more about creating and maintaining healthy congregations. The United Methodist Board of Discipleship sponsored the event.

Chang said he was spurred to action when he heard the opening night speaker, the Rev. Leslie Griffiths, dean of the Wesley Chapel in London, encourage United Methodists to continue John Wesley’s work on social justice issues. And when he read the hymn, "there was no way that I wasn’t going to do something," Chang said.

First, the church members descended on a nearby McDonald’s restaurant where they spent at least $2,000 buying more than 400 meals. Then they went out into the street to share their lunches.

"This is wonderful," said Foster Riley who added that he had lived in several missions and shelters before ending up under the expressway for two days. "I think it made everybody’s day. It was a cloudy day. But you came and brightened up our day. It was a good day for everybody."

While distributing lunches, the United Methodists also issued invitations to come to dinner and worship that night at the Hilton of the Americas in downtown Houston.

"Really? Are you serious?" several of the homeless asked, expressing amazement that they were being invited to dinner. But despite their incredulity, they came – about 100 of them.

And the United Methodists weren’t sure who benefited the most from the experience.

"It was really wonderful to have at my table one of those honored guests who was living under the expressway," said the Rev. Robert Sathuri, pastor of Emmanuel United Methodist Church in Polo, Ill. "To go bring the communion bread and cup and receive communion from him, Steven, it was a fantastic, fantastic experience for my wife and I. I felt that we made room for Jesus at the table, and Jesus broke bread with us."

The Rev. Charles Emery, pastor of Calvary United Methodist Church in Villa Park, Ill., expressed pleasure that there was so much interaction between those who came as guests to the banquet and those who were attending the conference.

"It wasn’t like they (the homeless guests) were sitting off in the corner," Emery said. "There was a true genuine sense of respect and openness toward each other which I thought was very hopeful."

"My big concern was that it not be too condescending to them," said Joyce Fieldstad, member of Warren United Methodist Church in Warren, Ill. "I went not knowing what to expect, but I was pleased with the result. They seemed very respectful to all of us. I really think they accepted us for what we were doing. I think they were very grateful and were very accepting of it."

Chang said, "Some of us are suggesting that maybe we should make every United Methodist event a kingdom event, and not just open the doors, but also open the table."

*Rhodes is director of communications for the Northern Illinois Annual Conference.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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